Lights and shadows of decarbonization

According to some studies, there are 90% chances that by the end of this century, the average global temperature will have increased between 2ºC and 4.9ºC, with a median of 3.2ºC. So in order to address this, decarbonization needs to happen sooner rather than later. We are talking about a transition towards a new energy model: the electrification of the economy and the increase of energy efficiency. Renewable energies will be the key point that will enable this change. In fact, the European Parliament proposed in May 2017 to increase the renewable energy target from the current 27% to 35%.

On the other hand, this strategy should be reinforced with Carbon Capture, Utilization and Storage (CCUS) initiatives. Despite not limiting the use of fossil fuels, they do reduce CO2 emissions by reutilizing them (i.e. alternative fuels) and, finally, storing them. However, will this new model be capable to cater to all of our energy needs? EU’s climate and energy objectives for 2030 establish that renewable energies should represent at least 27% of all energy consumption within the EU by 2030. Such goal will be achieved gradually. The global economy should evolve towards a larger electrification in different sectors. The transportation sector has the most potential, given that its GHG emissions have increased by 20% in a period in which overall European emissions had been reduced by 23%. The EU expects that by 2015 all emissions from transportation will be reduced by over 60%.

Data shows that decarbonization will occur, although at a slow pace, thanks to the commitments achieved from the climate summits of the past three years. We have seen that the final energy demand, as well as its evolution, relies on the development of a series of trends that can be classified in 5 dimensions:

Societal: access to information has contributed to the raise of environmental awareness among citizens, as well as more control of the consumers. This increase in control will be accompanied by a deeper use of information technologies.

Technological: in the transport sector, the focal point will be to improve the performance of the electrical car performance. This is closely tied with the evolution of batteries; in the industry sector, including power generation, a series of solutions to capture and reuse CO2 shall be developed from all technological disciplines (for instance, artificial intelligence to manage home’s cooling/heating systems or the use of new materials for insulation).

Economical: a proliferation of new business models based on the circular economy. There are not clear models existent today, however, it is assumed that given the combination of the growing pressure from regulations, incentives associated with future regulations as well as the increased awareness, will make these models feasible.

Environmental: increase of pollution in cities, which poses a continuing problem, or the consequences of climate change on the planet such as extreme weather events.

Political: regulatory intervention linked to decarbonization and it has been said earlier, the importance of economic incentives for the use of emission-free technologies or the implementation of taxation to other energy generation sources. In any case, there is not still consensus regarding the future regulatory framework, that is, if this should be more directed towards gas emissions allowance (cap-and-trade) or instead more focus on the taxation system that considers externalities linked to greenhouse gas emissions.

Ultimately, decarbonization of the economy is a necessity, not an option, as stated by Ban Ki-moon, former UN Secretary-General, in regards to climate change: “This is no Plan B because there is no planet B”. In order to face this necessity we are going to need a combination of actions in the economic, social, political, environmental and technological scope. Regarding the last one, technologies may be oriented towards a transition, as it is in the case of CCUS (i.e. FReSMe and MefCO2 projects, financed by H2020 of the EU); or seek more final solutions together with an increasing efficient energies and an increasing renewable electrification of the economy.

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement
No 637016.

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